Ken Day* – Let’s face facts – many lawyers ‘of a certain age’ are just happy where they are with their tech skills. They are close to being Luddite in their aversion to new technology. But being tech savvy is more important than ever in the hyper competitive legal world.
As the world changes – and boy has it changed! – the need to adopt more tech savvy skills has not only changed with it, but has become a necessity.
A recent article by LA lawyer Jeff Bennion in AbovetheLaw garnered massive traction with its focus on the need for lawyers to get ‘with it’ on the tech front.
The stats prove that lawyers are becoming increasingly tech savvy. A recent ABA Legal Technology Survey, showed they are increasingly engaged with new technology with 2017 seeing an increased adoption rate of new tech tools and trends.
Further, this trend is occurring in jurisdictions everywhere, including the UK, Europe, Australia and elsewhere. New tools are coming into play constantly and the need to use those that best suit your practice also continues.
Bar and Law Society rules as well as client expectations will affect the rate with which lawyers adopt new technologies, but getting into the right mindset is important, as well as undertaking your own tech audit (see below).
Lawyers Embracing Technology
- Look smart. The reality is as lawyers work with papers and books, that stack of papers on the reception desk, the fusty books in the law library and the desk that makes it look like there’s been an explosion of some kind are not exactly creating the sort of impression you need in the age in which we live.
None of which is to say that books should be disgarded or papers dispensed with. Quite the opposite. They will remain a staple of most law offices and long may that continue.
However the fact that technology is rapidly changing so as to make your life more manageable and your office more profitable means you do need to get with the program. Literally.
Upgrade Your Email
First, make sure you have a decent email account that represents what you do – not a firstname.lastname@example.org or somesuch reflection of a bygone era.
The same goes for the website. Having a functional, intuitive, fast-loading, mobile-friendly website is required these days, whereas some lawyers insist on retaining the site that has “served them well”.
Well, a site that is up-to-date, with useful content and easy to navigate and find is something that will serve you better.
If It Ain’t Broke . .
“Agile”, for those unaware, is a technology or system that moves project management from the lawyerly ‘linear’ approach to the management of projects, documentation and the like.
You can see a specific definition here.
Or check what Wikipedia’s agile definition is here:
The Agile movement is not anti-methodology, in fact many of us want to restore credibility to the word methodology. We want to restore a balance. We embrace modeling, but not in order to file some diagram in a dusty corporate repository. We embrace documentation, but not hundreds of pages of never-maintained and rarely-used tomes. We plan, but recognize the limits of planning in a turbulent environment. .— Jim Highsmith, History: The Agile Manifesto
Agile is not ne. The collaborative software development principles were set down in the Agile Manifesto in 2001 — but it’s rapidly gaining popularity within largd organizations and the law.
Partly it is because software developers believe the Agile method “yields more effective code faster and more efficiently, which may be vital in moving at digital speed.”
It uses all those terms that might be off-putting to those happy with what they already know and love. Terms like ‘iterative’ and ’empirical feedback’. But in essence it is something that can lift productivity from that linear or ‘waterfall’ approach to document management that many lawyers love.
For instance, when working on documentation in an agile manner, the team are collaborating rather than working to specifications.
Many lawyers are wary of that.
They don’t like the fact that they are not hammering out contractual terms that are upfront and specific.
The use of agile technology has been particularly significant in larger, heavily regulated organisations, which has largely been pursued by IT teams that want a faster and more effective way to deliver new products to the market. Banks are a good example.
While there is a strong desire by many for the embracing of agile contracting, the need to mitigate risks remains an issue to be dealt with and while not all contracts or projects are necessarily suitable for agile, the process towards agile will continue to grow.
In the meantime, the best way forward is to engage agile in projects where both parties are familiar with its requirements – and advantages.
But make no mistake. Agile is happening and will also be coming your way if it hasn’t already.
The Paperless Office
Let’s face it, lawyers love paper. It’s what make the grist to their legal mill.
But the times they are a-changing. And it is coming from consumers and the technology that they are using.
Mobile devices mean more people are seeking to use paperless transactions in real time. Not tomorrow or net week, but now.
The power of Now is going to accelerate and lawyers need to understand that paperless transactions are only going to increase – and become standard.
Companies want to reduce the paper cost, but now consumers – and your clients – are increasingly wanting to sign electronically rather than tackling a bundle of paper documents.
It will affect every aspect of how business is transacted. Take the Tesla vehicle for instance and the leasing transactions that occur with them. The entire leasing transaction is handled via a “tap and sign” app on the car’s dashboard.
Financial service providers are moving rapidly into the digital end-to-end transaction market and legal services cannot be far behind.
Check this article which shows how 60% of Fortune 500 companies are using electronic signatures to boost their productivity. You don’t want to be caught napping – or at least printing and signing and even faxing sheets when the paperless trend is moving faster than ever.
The tech companies in this space are moving rapidly to solidify their position and lawyers will need to keep pace with the paperless revolution, even if it means dispensing with their love of paper, for the love of simplicity and greater efficiency.
The Blockchain Phenomenon
Now this one may be really challenging for some lawyers. In fact, why don’t we let its influence be explained via Bettina Warburg’s Ted Talk –
While Blockchain is in its infancy, as Bettina Warburg states in the Ted Talk below, the conversations and tests of its application will be a big part of 2017. While fintech will likely be the first adopter, the legal tech industry will not be far behind.
Facebook recently launched it’s API for the development of bots in Messenger. More and more businesses will take advantage of this release and other bot platforms, but legal tech is already ahead of the curve. One chatbot was developed by a Stanford student and helps fight your parking tickets successfully.
More AI and Better AI
We heard a lot about AI in the legal marketplace the past year. Law firms are hiring robot lawyers and the technology lawyers are using is getting more complex and is automating menial tasks. 2017 will be even better. Technology tends to become better and cheaper quickly (see Moore’s Law), and 2016 was a prelude for what’s to come in 2017 for AI.
AI is truly the shiny, new toy that is all the rage so far as tech lawyers are concerned and there has been a surfeit of robot-talk, including predictions on the end of lawyers as we know them due to the developments in AI.
There are a growing number of AI-related law tools like Kira Systems (machine learning and contract review) and ROSS Intelligence which has been widely reported by everyone like this report in the Washington Post, for its development of the first AI attorney work with Baker Hostetler.
AI’s growth is becoming exponential and lawyers will increasingly embrace the concept of the ‘robotic lawyer’. However it is increasingly also reaching the echelons of the smaller law firms, not simply Big Law and AI is something any tech-respecting lawyer needs to think about carefully in 2017.
More Tech Savvy Lawyers
Some Tech-Savvy ‘To Dos’
You need to ensure you’re making yourself as efficient for your self – and as smart for your clients – so do your own audit.
Check things like your document management, document storage, marketing and web issues.
You can have an outsider do it for you but remember that your clients are going to become more technologically sophisticated even if you’re struggling with some of those issues.
Don’t let your firm become redundant and ‘old fashioned’. The latter has its charms, to be sure, but it ain’t going to win business in a faster moving, more competitive world.
You need to keep abreast of technology by reading or attending law tech events and speaking with those who may be more tech savvy than you.
Being a tech-savvy lawyer does not mean you need to understand all the permutations of technology – it does however mean that you can help move your firm – no matter what its size – into the 21st century with confidence that you are footing it with the best. At the end of the day, remember that properly used, good technology can level the legal playing field, making ‘tech-savvy’, profit-savvy too.
*Ken Day is a former IT consultant and specialist in law technology and related issues.